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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Saito gravely hurt in attack, surviving colleague says

Staff writer

Akihiko Saito, the security professional ambushed by an Islamic militant group in Iraq, was "bleeding heavily" after he was shot, according to a colleague who survived last weekend's attack.

An official at Cyprus-based Hart Security Ltd. who survived the attack made the remark during a meeting Friday night Japan time with a Foreign Ministry official. A senior ministry official said the meeting took place outside Iraq.

"According to the witness, Saito's injury was grave and he was bleeding heavily," said the official, who briefed reporters after a task force meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. "He thought Mr. Saito would not survive."

But the ambush survivor did not check if Saito actually died, the official said, adding that Saito's fate remained unknown.

Saito, a former member of the Ground Self-Defense Force and French Foreign Legion, and his colleagues at Hart Security were ambushed May 8 after they escorted a convoy from Baghdad to a U.S. air base in Al-Asad in western Iraq.

The Ansar al-Sunnah Army on Monday claimed responsibility on its Web site, saying it would later show a video image of Saito. But since then the militant group has been silent.

After the survivor fled the scene, he climbed into a car of an Iraqi passing by and asked for help at a nearby U.S. military checkpoint, the official said.

Some five hours after the attack, he went back to the scene with U.S. soldiers. They found several bodies badly damaged from the attack, he said.

Meanwhile, Hart Security said on its Web site Friday that its convoy team consisted of four foreigners and 14 Iraqis, and that two foreigners and four Iraqis survived the ambush.

The security contractor told the government that an Iraqi driver, who hired Hart Security to guard the cargo, also survived the ambush.

Hart Security said that Nick Coetzee, a South African who was among the convoy team, is also missing, presumed dead.

"A number of bodies have been recovered from the scene. Sadly, due to the nature of the attack, the identification of the victims may take some time," according to the Web site.

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The Japan Times

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